I love a vehicle designed to get a job done, which is probably why I have such an affinity for vans. Unlike pickups, which typically drive around empty and get treated like cars by owners, vans always seem to be rushing to job sites, hauling people around, or delivering cargo. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years with vans such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 and Ram Promaster, so with when I had to move across town I got my hands on the updated 2017 Nissan NV 3500 High Roof SL V8 to see how the lone Japanese commercial van in the U.S. competes. Here are four things I learned:
It’s the Goldilocks of vans, filling the gap between American-style and European-style vans
The Nissan NV 3500 HD High Roof is a hybrid of sorts between traditional pickup-based American-style vans such as the Chevrolet Express or old Ford Econoline and European-style single-box, high-roof designs such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Ford Transit. A short-roof version exists, but the high-roof Nissan NV marries the functionality of walk-through European vans with the footprint of American vans.
Loading is a pain
One of the biggest benefits of European-style, full-size vans is their low step-in and lift-over heights—in other words they’re typically easier to get into and easier to load because the cargo areas aren’t far off the ground. The lift-over height for the Ram Promaster, for example, is just 21 inches, making loading a pretty easy affair. American-styled vans are typically higher off the ground due to their pickup underpinnings. The previous-generation Nissan Titan-based NV is no exception. The NV 3500’s step-in height is about 20 inches, and the load-floor is another 8.5 inches above that, at 28.5 inches.
Getting into the cargo area from either the passenger-side sliding door or the back door requires me, at about 6’1” to take two large steps up into the cabin. The cargo area load floor is just below my waist level, making loading heavy cargo much more difficult than it has to be. It’d be a worthwhile trade-off if the NV offered four-wheel drive because it’s got ample ground clearance (side note—why don’t you, Nissan?), but it’s quite literally a pain otherwise.
Once up and in the NV 3500 High-Roof’s 323.1 cubic-foot cargo hold, the space is pretty useful. Although there isn’t much room lengthwise because Nissan only has one wheelbase and length option, there’s plenty of room to go up, a grippy vinyl floor covering, and six well-placed D-rings to tie down cargo around the load floor.
New 375-hp Endurance V-8 with seven-speed auto is beastly
The 2017 Nissan NV’s engine lineup really benefits from its Armada and Titan stablemates. While the Frontier pickup’s 261-hp 4.0-liter V-6 is still the base engine on NV 1500 and NV 2500 models, Nissan tosses its old 317-hp V-8 and its five-speed auto to the curb for 2017. In its place is the automaker’s latest Endurance V-8—a Tennessee-built 5.6-liter V-8 making a stout 375 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, paired with a modern seven-speed automatic transmission.
The new V-8 powertrain, which is standard on NV 3500 models, is a huge improvement over the old.
When driving around town empty, the NV 3500 is downright quick. The new V-8 revs fast and has a ton of torque off the line—it sounds pretty damn good, too. The NV’s V-8 definitely doesn’t need more power, but I’d be lying if I said the thought of supercharged NV Nismo didn’t cross my mind more than once after wide-open throttle runs.
The new seven-speed is pretty smooth, too. In Normal drive mode it upshifts smartly, and isn’t afraid to drop down a few gears
The NV 3500 handles weight well, too. Although I don’t think I taxed our tester’s 3,550 pound (1,610 kg) payload, with the cargo area packed full of furniture and boxes, I certainly felt the weight that the engine was tasked with moving. But unlike some other full-size vans, the NV doesn’t struggle to accelerate or pass when loaded. The transmission smartens up loaded, too, holding gears longer and downshifting smartly to provide engine braking.
The EPA doesn’t test heavy-duty vehicles such as the NV 3500, but over 450 miles (724 km) of mixed driving empty and loaded on surface streets and highways, I averaged 13.9 mpg (16.9 L/100km).
It’s Surprisingly Cheap
Nissan offers the NV cargo van in five configurations: NV 1500, NV 2500, NV 2500 High-Roof, NV 3500, and NV 3500 High Roof. Prices range from $28,925 USD for a base NV 1500 to $35,375 USD for a NV 3500 High Roof like our tester. Our particular tester was a nearly loaded SL model. With the $1,100 USD Technology Package selected, our 2017 NV 3500 High Roof SL rolls off dealer lots for $38,940 USD.
That’s a steal compared to the top three segment best-sellers (ignoring the chassis cab-only Ford E-Series)—a comparabl -equipped Ford Transit with a long wheelbase, high roof, and EcoBoost engine goes for $44,725 USD, a V-8-equipped Chevrolet Express 3500 extended-length goes for $40,265 USD, and a Ram Promaster 3500 HD stickers for $41,900 USD. That’s a lot of van for the money any way you slice it.